NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXVIX)
Professor F. F. Bruce catches a play on words in the phrase that Paul uses from Hosea to make his point of why God decided to choose a new people to worship Him. Let’s put it this way to make it clearer: Because they had provoked God to jealousy by their worship of a “non-god” (Hebrew, lo’-’el), He would provoke them to jealousy by means of choosing a “non-people” (Hebrew, lo’-‘am). To understand the term “non-people,” this was meant to describe any ethnic or racial group that was never part of God’s electing purpose in the same way Israel was predestined to be.
When we compare what Moses said here in Deuteronomy 32:21 with what was said in Hosea 2:23, we get the whole picture. In Hosea this is combined as follows: “I will plant her for Myself in the land. Those who were not loved, I will call, ‘My loved ones.’ Those who were ‘not My people,’ I will call, ‘My people.’ And they will say, ‘You are our God!’” This may sound complicated in English, but in Hebrew, it is a beautiful play on words. One of the closest renderings I would give is as follows: “Those who are mere people, I will now call, My people, and they will call Me, ‘their God.’”1
How sad then that God must turn around and say to those who were His people, you are my people no more. I would hate to think that one day this will be repeated if God had to say to America, “You were once My proud Christian nation, but you are My proud Christian nation no more.” And how would America, who was founded by Christian forefathers, feel if God were to choose some other nation that was founded by nonbelievers to be His Christian nation? It would be a sad day indeed.
Jewish scholar David Stern takes note of the same play on words that makes this verse even more interesting. For him, Paul is not surprised that Israel failed to understand the true impact of these words, but will not accept that as a valid excuse. Israel should have understood it. The poetic parallelism of Deuteronomy 32:21 Paul quotes here in verse 19 draws a clear comparative argument. After all, if a non-nation, that is, a nation void of understanding about God, understands the message declared without words by the stars in heaven, how much more should Israel have understood it from the written Word of God!
But what makes the argument even stronger is that this passage shows that God predicted long ago He would do it exactly as planned to provoke Israel to jealousy and make them angry. How could they as a nation under God, who had gone so long and come so far, still not understand the destiny of disobedient people? How much clearer could God have made it? No wonder they missed the prophet from Galilee who everyone celebrated as the true Messiah.2
Verse 20: Then Isaiah is bold enough to say this for God:
“The people who were not looking for me—
they are the ones who found me.
I made myself known to those who did not ask for me.”3
Now Paul brings Isaiah back into the conversation as if to add insult to injury. Not only were the Gentiles not looking for a Savior like the Jews but when they found out that God was looking for them they responded by love and faith and were accepted into the family of God without having to go through circumcision or keeping of the Law. Furthermore, they were not required to practice all the rites, rituals, and keep the holy days. When Isaiah used the term, “found me,” it doesn’t mean that God was living or hiding somewhere and they were in search of Him and came across His dwelling place, but it means they became aware of why He was who He was. And it was God who arranged their encounter with Him by sending them His emissaries and representatives.
In Isaiah’s mind, it was Israel God wanted to make a light to the world. Unfortunately, they had fallen into such darkness by the time the Messiah came that they didn’t recognize Him. So God sent His Son as a light to the world and let that light shine in every corner where the Gospel went. And he found those outside the camp of Israel who were willing to recognize Him, reverence Him, and revere Him as their Redeemer and Savior. Ironically, all Gentiles who had embraced Judaism were despised by the Jews and treated as second-class members of their society. And now, it was those very same people that He was sending out to be lights into a world so dark in ignorance and idolatry.
Our Lord illustrated it in his parable about the king who first invited his friends to his son’s wedding. But when they refused to come, he sent out his servants with this commission: “The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see. So the servants did, and brought in all they could find, good and bad alike; and the banquet hall was filled with guests.”4 The Apostle John explained it this way: “You see, our love for Him comes as a result of His loving us first.”5
Bible teacher John Gill believes these words should be applied to the nations of the world. The inhabitants of these lands were interested in the things of this world. Their philosophers constructed their theories around the wisdom of the human thinking. The religious among them dabbled in the observance of superstitious rites and ceremonies. What morality there was among them, ascribed to the basic instincts of right and wrong, good and bad. But none of them wanted to learn about a Messiah because they knew nothing of Him. Therefore, none of them asked about Him, sought counsel from Him, or asked about His coming into the world. But for the Jews, this was their greatest expectation. Nevertheless, they did not evangelize the peoples of the world. Any Gentiles who had any interest in the God of Abraham or the Torah had to come to the Jews for instructions.
And yet, such was God’s grace and goodness that He sent emissaries to tell the Gentiles about the Messiah through the preaching of the Gospel. They didn’t deserve it nor had they earned it. Only by God’s kindness and goodness, grace and mercy was it brought to them. And once they heard the Gospel they were given faith to believe. Thus the Spirit of God directed them to Him, and it was there they found new life, peace, pardon, righteousness, and rest for their weary souls. That’s why it is such a mystery why the Jews could not have found this pearl of great price.6 Clearly, Christ manifested Himself among them in word and miracles. Yet, because of the hardness of their hearts, they had no internal revelation of Him since they turned away His Spirit who wanted to bring them His grace and salvation. That’s why Paul’s heart broke because they showed no interest to explore this prophecy in order to gain some knowledge of the mystery of God’s grace.7
Martin Luther sees Paul’s quote of Isaiah was to censor the Jews who boasted of their merits in order to have a special place in God’s kingdom. It was certainly a shock to hear that they had been rejected by God in place of the Gentiles. Luther recalls the incident where Jesus told His Jewish critics that during the time of Elisha there were many widows in Israel, but God sent him to the pagan widow in Sarepta.8 That’s when they wanted to throw Jesus over the cliff. They could not stand it when He told them that their pride in the self-righteousness of the Law did not meet God’s standards.9 So you can imagine what ire Paul thought he might cause by telling the Jewish believers in Rome that it was for that reason God called him to go and evangelize the Gentiles. Therefore, they should do the same.
John Calvin believed that in his day some Rabbis had taken it upon themselves to interpret this passage from Isaiah as a promise of God that He would cause the Jews to repent of their renunciation of Jesus. But for Calvin, it could not be any clearer that these words pertained to the Gentiles. How else could you understand the words, “The people who were not looking for me?” Paul would not have used this Scripture if he were talking about his fellow Jews. His point was on how God rejected the Jews when they rejected His Son and sent the message of salvation to a people who didn’t know anything about Him, were looking for Him, or asking for Him. He wanted to adopt new members into the family of God. Calvin also sees in this a representation of the calling of all the faithful out of the world’s masses. None who have been saved were anticipating that the Lord would come calling. But when He knocked they opened the door and He came in.10
Albert Barnes focuses on Paul’s statement about the boldness of Isaiah saying such a thing about God going in search of a people who did not know Him in order to make them His own. Isaiah said this with no hesitation, boldly, and with assurance. The word Greek word apotolmaō used here and translated as “bold” means to be venturous, daring. And why wouldn’t it be? There’s no doubt but that the Jews would have found this to be a very unpopular doctrine if they truly believed Isaiah was talking about Gentiles replacing them as the apple of God’s eye. The Jews saw themselves as extremely righteous and the Gentiles as extremely wicked. But it was for the very reason of the Jew’s wickedness that God cast them aside. This was the point which Paul was making and no doubt expected the most opposition on the part of the Jews. But Paul did not want anyone overlooking the fact that God was the One who let Himself be found. It was the knowledge of Him that they were given, even though they had not sought after Him before.
How ironic that the Gentiles would forsake their idols in favor of God when the Jews had done just the opposite. Barnes sees this application to believers today from a somewhat different angle, He says that no one should expect to find God if they do not seek for Him; or that, in fact, any would become Christians if they did not seek for it, and make an effort to find it. He bases this on the phrase in Isaiah’s prophecy, “ones who found Me.” Barnes notes that it is in the past tense here in English, but in the Hebrew, it is in the present tense. That then would make it even more obvious that the time would come when God would say this of Himself; The time would come for the Gentiles to be brought to the knowledge of who I AM.11
I would disagree with Barnes if he meant that there are sinners in the world looking for God or Christ. What they are looking for is that which is missing in their lives to bring them joy and peace. Many are desperately looking for help to get them out of their dire situation of sinful bondage. It’s that desire to be free that causes God to send His servants to tell them the Good News of salvation and liberty.
1 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, Vol. 6, p. 207
2 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Isaiah 65:1
4 Matthew 22:8-10
5 1 John 4:19
6 Matthew 13:45-46
7 John Gill: Commentary on the Bible, loc. cit.
8 Luke 4:26 – the Greek name for Sarepta is Zarephath (Tzarfat in Aramaic), a Phoenician town between Tyre and Sidon, but nearer Sidon on the Mediterranean coastline.
9 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 152-153
10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.